Sunday, October 2, 2011

I was in nuclear power training in 1980 when my father passed.  I wrote a couple of poems...

End of Life Criteria

like a piano tune
that starts and ends,
so is life ...

death cuts in:
a toneless key;
a nameless chord;
a sharp discontinuity ...

judgment occurs
without a moment's notice;
and on the second half
one regrets not doing
what should have been done ...

every second is judgment -
and every opportunity
affords one yet another
to correct the incorrection -
before the final hour ...
has passed.



Thoughts about judgment day

the hour actively approaches while we,
its victims, sit and wait, with folded arms,
trying to appear comfortable and carefree,
and mutually exclusive.

days pass quickly, and nights,
like the blink of an eye...
nay, the pupil's dilation...
time races to its destination
while we, in our lethargy,
approximate suspended animation.

there are no conclusions,
only the vain pleadings for another sequel,
a few more hours,
a couple more opportunities.
The rope by which we hang is long,
but the knot is sure.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rondeaux - Paul Lawrence Dunbar

                               I

Not they who soar, but they who plod
Their rugged way unhelped to God
Are heroes, they who higher fare
And flying fan the upper air
Miss all the toil that hugs the sod.
'Tis they whose backs have felt the rod,
Whose souls to sorrow have been bare,
Can smile upon defeated care,
         Not they who soar.

High up there are no thorns to prod
Nor boulders hiding 'neath the clod
To him the keenness of the share,
For flight is ever free and rare--
But heroes they, the soil who've trod
         Not they who soar.

                               II

'Twixt smile and tear so wags the world--
Today on happy pinions whirled,
We tempt the blue and spirit--gay
We neighbor with the stars--today
We seek the heavens planet-pearled.

Tomorrow, ah, our wings are furled,
And Heaven seems oh so far away--
We lift our voices up to pray
        'Twixt smile and tear.

And then in eddies swiftly swirled--
Poor straws upon the current twirled,
We cling, and lose and wage the fray;
Not where we will, but where we may
We lodge, on some far shore wave hurled.
         'Twixt smile and fear.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Complete Sonnet Series




The Sonnet Series

Prelude

Every decision, it seems, is a trade-off,
and each choice,
a rejection of all other options.

We oversimplify
to mask our true feelings.
We generalize
to avert the difficult question.

Our friendship, our love is a complex being,
a life all its own
with wants and needs
that test our resolve.

Is it a mistake, a crime to feed it, to allow
it to blossom and grow?

Addendum

The things that I've always wanted, I'll always want:
tea for two at bookstore cafes;
chess games and poetry in city parks;
tender kisses at midnight
under summer moonlight;
white wine with honey-roasted almonds...

The things that I've laboriously earned, I'll laboriously keep:
enduring friendships and trusts;
memories of special moments
when love was sweet;
the deep-seated satisfaction of success;
lessons learned from failure.

November 1987

Sonnet #1

Dear friend, the sonnet seemed to be the best of forms
To test and gage the status of our friendship born
Those years ago, amid the various interludes of summer’s nights;
Failure to give life to such a sweet creation would be quite
Disarming, and alarming, and a waste of all those precious
Talents, borrowed from the Muse of song and word and deed;
And if by chance our meeting and our wanting were unfounded,
We owe it to ourselves to search and find the function of that need,

Dear friend, though each has walked his separate path
To glory and to honor, let not the fleeting summer’s wrath
Blot out the blessings of the Sun to feed and nourish all we gained
And earned through work and play and love and joy and pain.
If reading sonnets opens up your vision,
Send me one to reveal your heart’s position

Jacksonville, March 1989


Sonnet #2

You try to steer me, gently, on a course
avoiding you, then call my love a butterfly’s,
point it to flowers new.  “Take my deep desires
elsewhere” is the song you sing to me.
“Let’s always hold fond memories of the
love that used to be.” Well I’ve been around,
I know this town, I hear all that you say,
you’d rather not get serious, just be
best friends at play. But my soul’s a mighty hunter
that has locked in on its prey. I will stalk
it, like the lion, in a very patient way.
And just when you least expect it, I will
be there for your needs, and we'll smile when we
remember other flowers...

Jacksonville, November, 1989


Sonnet #3

A wounded beast, I stalk the corridors,
the passageways of my hidden, broken soul;
hungering for freedom from the wretched pain
that hems in, that locks up, and that ties in knots
my twisted thoughts, and renders everything
I touch an ill-begotten, uninspired blotch.
The memories of our June embrace
I struggle to preserve.  The touch, the taste
of love was sweet and tender, not the salt
and rust my present occupation yields to me.
Yet as we speak, I pace the halls, the
closets of our mind, and searching, I uncover
the one I came to know and grew to love
Yet lives, and writes, inspired from above.

Mayport, February, 1990


Sonnet #4

Your sonnets reached my mailbox today.
I plunged into them like a dog in heat.
Absorbing them, my hardened soul was moved
to tears of passion, blinding, bittersweet.
The symphony of words you now compose,
Resulting from deep inspirations, pure,
You weave, majestically, as from an ancient source,
And share with me and cause me to conjure
New images. Lines that bear the current and
The voltage of the engine of my soul,
Your whispers loosen knots that bind me,
Your words unwind me, make me whole.
And work I must to now retain
These prayers I send up in your name.

Jacksonville, March 1990


Sonnet #5

Dear friend my evening well was spent
Engaged in thoughts’ exchange, review,
Revealing my ill soul’s intent
To heal itself, be born anew.
I love your rhythms, rhymes and notes,
They lift my spirits, higher, ever.
You are the perfect antidote
For poisoned darts and hearts that sever.
Tonight I need a stronger brew,
Poured in a mug, steeped with emotion,
Some blend of herbs my fathers knew,
a wine of sleep, a witches’ potion.
My thirst is far from being quenched.
My heart and soul in pain are drenched.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #6

I’m torn between two sinking ships,
Two jealous mistresses who hate.
To choose one is to choose them both:
The choice is clear; I hesitate
Deciding and the moment slips away.
New ships are landing at my pier
From places strange, from shores untold.
They beckon me to come aboard,
I hesitate. Once more events unfold
Revealing feelings that are blue.
My pilot bids me change my course,
Steer clear of danger, shallow shoals.
I navigate the ship through storms
To reach the resting place of souls.

Mayport, March 1990


Sonnet #7

Dear faithful friend, the spirit
Of the verses that we write,
Excites us and invites us
To relive that summer’s night.
There are those who do not put stock
In resurrection’s power;
They hem and haw at warnings
Of the coming of the hour.
I too had doubts about beliefs
That dead could come to life,
Then my forgotten love for you
Was resurrected, born anew . . .

A stronger and far deeper love
Is one twice born, sent from above.

Mayport, March 1990


Sonnet #8

Unclothed we come into this world, possession-less, alone,
The odyssey to reach each goal acquaints us with new pain,
Each stumbling block, despite the odds, becomes a stepping stone,
And every loss, a predecessor to a greater gain.

Our meeting was revealed to me when I was but a child:
A revelation of a form, a loveliness, pristine,
Yet planted in my heart was that pure vision, undefiled,
Someday to manifest itself just as it was foreseen.

I found you when I lacked the wherewithal to make you mine,
Distressed, perplexed, I felt compelled to spell my love that June.
That summer’s love was but a glimpse into a world divine,
A harbinger of better days, of times more opportune.

We’ll meet again and then we must decide upon the hour
When we’ll allow our destinies to intertwine and flower.

Mayport, March 1990


Sonnet #9

We’ve been delayed from getting underway.
This pause affords me time to write to you
Some thoughtful verse, to contemplate, to pray,
To call my father’s gods, subdue
The passion, pain, excitement of the day.
I read your sonnets, gifts of Spring,
About our love one June.
I miss our chats when I’m away at sea.
Communion with you makes me know I’m blessed.
The poet in me prays you’ll always be
My friend, my lover, object of my quest,
And sonneteer of magic poetry.

March love outlives the summer’s fling,
‘Cause summer ends too soon.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #10

When overburdened with the cares and woes
Of everyday travail, I take a pause
To recollect, arrange my thoughts, compose
Some verse for you, attempting to disclose
A word, a clause, the laws that bind our hearts
Together in a single work of art.
Our love cannot be bound by words and notes,
Though flawed, confined to secrecy, and mute,
We can’t stand on a mountaintop, promote
Abroad this feeling, though it keeps our boat
Afloat amid the sunken wrecks, unmarked,
Unseen by those who fail to read the charts . . .
I love you, yes, I can’t ignore the force
That steers me steady on life’s stormy course.

Mayport, March 1990


Sonnet #11

Before I fall asleep each night I read
The poems you’ve sent: they are my prayers, my hope,
My joy, prescription for my timeless need.
I read them twice, I measure every slope
And curve, defining and deriving their
Delights, despite the doom you recommend
Our end would be if we should ever touch
Our lips to lips, our flesh to flesh again.
My compass true, my anchor sound, I’ll find
The key to treasures long forgotten, long
Unrecognized, preserved within the mind
Of poets who still sing the sonnet’s song.
And you, my friend, write on your sullen dirge.
I wager we’ll survive its sterile purge.

Mayport, March 1990

Sonnet #12 

One April day the crew got underway,
With Captain's-gig and hopes and spirits high,
Embarking on a lark to old St. Aug,
To seek for LUCE the blessing of the fleet.
We passed shacks, mansions, rich and poor that lined
The shore. Along the beach the sand was brown
Like mud; ebb tide exposed the rotted posts
Where fishing boats and captain's gigs could land.
LUCE led the slow procession past the stands
Where stood the Bishop, color guard, and friends,
He sprinkled us with water from his hands,
And smiled and spoke his blessing for the fleet:
God bless the fleet that shields our shores from harm,
Protect the ships that silence war's alarm.

Mayport, April 1990

Sonnet #13

A young man's life expired on my ship
Today.  He walked aboard at dawn, intent
(One must assume) to start his day, his life
Anew.  Then suddenly, without consent,
Without the chance to bargain, beg, or plead,
The messenger of death unsheathed his sword,
Cut off the breath, suppressed the beating heart
Of life once vibrant, cocksure, confident.

A young man died, was his the first, the last
To reach the end of dreams, the final breath
To take? When all the storms of life have passed,
And evil's jurisdiction over souls
Is brought to naught, the truth, once crucified,
Will rise to save the souls of hopes that died.

Mayport, April 1990 


Sonnet #14

Dear friend, I listen to your poems of late,
And contemplate the dreaded thought of life
Without the prospect of your fond embrace;
I reminisce about that kiss one June:
Too soon, too late to consummate; too true
To be denied, too pure to not be sure
That God intended for our souls to dwell
As one, exclusive, all-embracing love---
No matter what the future holds in store,
I did, I do I’ll always love you more
And more; though distance separate us far,
I’ll search the constellations for that star
That shines in you. And should I die, too soon,
Apart from you, we’ll meet again one June.

Jacksonville, April 1990

Sonnet #15

Dear friend, with pen in hand and feelings true
I sing for you this song. Despite my voice,
Too base in places to be understood,
You’ll sense the message: soothing, moving, light,
Disarming, satisfying. Rendezvous
Tonight with me, take flight, delight, rejoice
In that we share this love, exchange this word
That lives past sunsets, through the darkest night.
I can’t contain the energy this thought
Now generates: it makes me want to dance,
Sing, shout, tell all the worlds, turn somersaults;
It makes me grateful, thankful for romance.
When passing passions blue bid me adieu,
I seek safe harbors, true, kind friend, near you.

Mayport, April 1990

Sonnet #16

Today I watched the shuttle launched towards space.
A tail of fire plowed the southern morning sky
Until it disappeared. I thought about
The people there, behind the scenes, who made,
It all occur. There's someone there whose life
Is less than free from care, a lonely heart,
Dis-eased, distressed, beset by worries, woes,
Who, overcoming all, finds sweet the reaching
Of the goal. There're happy ones who feel the tinge
Of sadness at the thought of those who've missed
By fate the thrill of launch complete, the charm,
The pure romance of making dreams come true.
The shuttle jets toward heaven, far away
From troubles, closer still to hopes ideal.

Mayport, April 1990

Sonnet #17

Dear friend I left our poems ashore to gain
A clear and fresh perspective on romance
So new, unfolding through these notes exchanged
By mail. In some respects I'm at a loss
For words that rhyme: these thoughts, sublime, contain
The elements of hope divine, the chance
That you might share, with me, again, unchanged
Thrills sought and found that star-crossed night in June.
It can't be as it was. It must be less
Or more. Our lust for life has aged, matured,
We've wined and dined on bittersweets, endured
The loss and gain of joy's and pain's excess.
And yet I can't forget that night in June,
When we read Shelley, kissed, and touched the moon.

Mayport, May 1990

Sonnet #18

The spirit's come and gone. And yet remains
The hull, the shell wherein no true love thrives
Today. The salvaged traces laugh at me,
At us for make-believing fairy-tales
And happy endings where romance is sweet,
Where love runs deep, where passions overflow,
Eclipsing sun and moon and night and day.
The spirit waves good-bye and with a sigh
I lift my eyes, my chin, my sinking heart
To God, to plead for strength to understand
This plan, this life so fraught with strife, so full
Of chance and happenstance and foiled romance.
The deed is done, its end is near. Revere
The strength that overcomes a darkened year.

Jacksonville, May 1990

Sonnet #19

Two months have passed since last I read from you
A poem, wherein you bid your heart awake,
Return again, transcend that hellish gore
Where life and love are but the vapid glow
Which covers, hides and smothers innocence.
I beg to understand, to know the truth
About that grave whereof you speak, where fools
Like me are brought, at last, to dismal ends.
My love of life is greater than my hope
That we might share again the joy we knew
That June. Another spring is come, and June
Will visit soon enough to cast its spell.
My love for poems and poets knows no end—
I can’t be just the object of your pen.

Jacksonville, June 1990

Sonnet #20

Dear friend, take up your pen again, compose
Those works of art that live and breathe and sing
The rhapsody of love and hope. Revive
Anew in you the spirit of the Muse
To guide, to entertain, and to enthuse.
Restore the democratic art, the urge
To write, embraceable, attainable
By all. Take up your pen, today, obey
God’s highest call: express the good, the true,
The beautiful. Articulate in verse
Life’s purest, deepest, noblest sentiments;
Preserve in rhyme and rhythm secrets sent.
Take up your pen again, the times demand
Your words be heard, your dreams rise up and stand.

Jacksonville, July 1990

Sonnet #21

Remember years ago when we first met?
You selling books, me browsing, reading books
At Brandon’s store? We were so young, and life
So unrevealed, so full of promises
And boundless hopes and dreams, and guarantees
And opportunities. You went away.
I stayed and made mistakes. We met again,
You east, me west, you school, me ships and seas.
Confused, we erred and severed friendship’s bond,
And all seemed lost between us save a thread,
A laser beam of hope that, over time,
Compressed, distilled and purified, survived
Until today. We meet again. What fate
Awaits is ours to plan, to recommend.

Jacksonville, July 1990


Sonnet #22

I look back to the time we shared and smile,
And smile and grin and laugh with joy untapped
Before that smile. Our spirits span the miles
That separate our hearts, that keep us trapped
Apart, detached, disjointed from that source
of strength, of love the gods bequeathed to gods
At birth. We rendezvous beyond, outside
The force of chance and fate. Our senses fuse,
United endlessly in time and space;
The spark of life ignites and multiplies,
Acknowledging a power all its own.
Dear friend I can't ignore the call of June:
In just a few short weeks we'll meet, we'll taste
The chilled sweet wine, fermented, aged and pure.

Greensboro, May 1991
  
Sonnet #23

Dear faithful friend I count each passing day,
I pray for time to instantly elapse,
Events to fill the gaps that separate
And isolate my life from thine. Oh fate,
Do draw me nearer, nearer to the heart
That beats in sync, in step with mine-- to thee,
To thee, sweet angel of my childhood dreams!
I'll smile to see you, touch you, taste your smile,
And all the while my soul has longed to lodge
Near yours will seem like but a brief delay,
A short, short stay away from heaven's bliss.
I fantasize that when we meet we'll kiss,
And cry, and tears will rinse away, dissolve
The walls we've built to hold in check our love.

E. Palo Alto, July 1991

Sonnet #24

Dear friend, perhaps our paths may cross again:
Perchance, we’ll meet together at the top,
Or down below, beneath the crowds, inside
The underground. Perhaps we’ll be united
By a cause, a hope, a dream, a fantasy . . .
Perhaps we’ll join together out of fear
Or love for something we perceive to be.
It matters not my love, the force, the source
That consecrates the ground on which we'll meet:
It matters not the season of the year
(Though June is sweet!), nor the place that destiny
Prescribes, we’ll meet! The Muses tell us so!
Though circumstance as yet precludes the fate
The gods have planned, I wait, I wait, I wait...

E. Palo Alto, August 1991


Sonnet #25

Sweet peace, spring love was never meant to last.
But we've been blessed by chance and fate to taste
Its bittersweetness, to feel its incandescence...
Sweet peace, I tremble at the thought of touching you,
I stumble, hesitatingly, over-anxiously
As we touch, as our lips meet,
As our heartbeats synchronize.

Our paths may never cross again as in
this random moment, our lips may never meet,
complete, again, and spring, sweet peace,
for you and I, may never reappear ...
This word is all that I possess to give,
and all is all my fragile soul can bear.
Sweet dreams, sweet peace, I hear your angels' wings.

St. Louis, March 1992


Sonnet #26

Sweet peace, spring love was never meant to last:
Its budding branches bear a tempting fruit,
Whose taste is bittersweet and innocence
That glows with incandescent subtlety.
Acknowledging spring's temporariness,
I tremble at the thought of touching you:
I fear your petals may unfold too soon,
And, falling to the ground, disintegrate.
I stumble as our lips approach, then meet,
Our heartstrings and our heartbeats synchronized.
Spring love intoxicates us: spirits fuse,
Revealing in each other secret worlds.
Sweet dreams, sweet peace, I hear your angels' wings.
My winter-weary soul awaits next spring.

St. Louis, March 1992

Sonnet #27

Sweet peace, spring love was never meant to last:
It's just a stint, a pause, a brief delay
In what is otherwise a boring, gray
Sojourn we call our lives. Today her buds
And blossoms tantalize our eyes; in haste
We contemplate the taste of spring romance.
Sweet peace, spring's bittersweetness gives us cause
To recollect and circumspect love's laws;
And yet, spring love commands her subtle dues,
And moves our thawing thoughts to feel her views.
Spring love intoxicates us: drunkenly
We stumble, stagger, tremble, wild and free.
Sweet dreams, sweet peace, I hear your angels' wings,
My drifting, weathered soul awaits next spring.

St. Louis, March 1992


Sonnet #28

A lynch mob forms and dissipates each day
Conversing and rehearsing how they plan
To seal the fate of those they've chose to slay.
The eager group, polite despite, is dressed
To kill, to maim, to burn some flesh, to swing
A body from a tree until it's gasped
Its last. Horrendous though it seems, they cheer
And celebrate this morbid mass of death.
The bulging eyeballs slime through charred remains
That were his head, while children poke with sticks,
Investigate the flesh that's left, the parts
That didn't burn, that wouldn't yield to flames . . .

St. Louis, April 1992


Sonnet #29

I fight with all my waning strength
Distrustfulness and self-suspicious fear
That seeks free rent within my heart and soul.
The night's uncertainty surrounds me
And whispers in my ear: "Take arms, retreat;
Resist, cooperate. The will, the faith
To overcome escapes my grasp each moment
I attempt to make it mine. At times
It seizes me, this fear, engulfing
Like a parasite my source of energy.
I cannot let it win! My soul must hold
Its ground! Though wounded, bloodied, battered,
I must be … justified.
The sword of victory and peace is drawn.
The darkest part of night precedes the dawn.

St. Louis, December 1991


Sonnet #30 

"This is the Captain, this is a strategic launch!
Battlestations!" rings around my soul,
And rousing me from sleepiness and slumber,
Demands that I assume my chosen role.
We rise up, like a beast, from ocean’s bottom,
The hatches open, doomsday is at hand;
We push the buttons, random pick the numbers,
Then send the missiles after our command.

And afterward the afterword is zero…
There’s no one left to tell us how we sinned;
We are survivors, that makes us the hero,
We build the world anew and make amends.
But how can we ignore, erase our wrong?
We pay the price; we are the best, the strong?

Bangor Submarine Base, February 1983


Sonnet #32

My love for you is like a fire, raging,
Self-contained and self-sustaining, flaming
Brightly, all-consuming, all-embracing,
Separating, burning all my dross away.
How is it that the flame which burns my flesh
And sears my senses purifies my soul?
Why must it be that pain and pleasure, love
And hate co-habitate in hopes and dreams?

It seems, and it must be that fear hates love
As much as hate fears truth, as truth loves light.
It seems, and it must be my plight, to seek
Your soul, to fan the flame I fear the most.
My love for you is like a fire, raging,
Self-contained and self-sustaining, flaming.

Washington, August 1992


Sonnet #33

I tossed the ball to fall within her range
of view.  She thanked me with a friendly smile.
I looked into her somewhat saddened eyes
and found a friendly home, to my surprise.
Inside she showed me to an empty place,
and bid me have a seat and rest my soul.
I fell asleep, I went into a trance,
She smiled again, I touched her eyes, the doors
That opened wide for me (for me alone,
I'd be so vain to dream ... ).
I watched her pupils dilate from within,
Behind the lids that always blink too soon.
I tossed the ball again to fall within her range
of view.  She thanked me with a smile.

Harper's Ferry, October 1992


Sonnet #34

We sought asylum after we were freed.
Resettlement and refuge was our hope
And dream. We recognized that we had been
Excluded from the human race, and yet,
We chose to cast our buckets where we were.
Our nobleness convinced us that some day
We’d reap in joy what we had sown before
In blood and tears: and all the while our fears
Suggested otherwise; to wit, we had no right
To earn by birth what we had been endowed.
In retrospect, we should have sought asylum
Off these shores. One hundred thirty years
Have passed, too many years to resurrect those
Pristine hopes and dreams. And now, today,
The time has come to seize what we are due.

Washington, February 1993

Sonnet #35

I got your message and I called you twice…
each thirty seconds ‘til your line was free.
Until I spoke with you I couldn't rest
In peace, my wandering soul a refugee.
The magic spell you cast on me last spring
Has been revived, has come alive again.
Since spring it seems my poems have all been blues ...
My passion source has wandered far from joy;
The love we almost had lives on, and waits
and hopes to someday see the light of day…

Washington, February 1993


Sonnet #37  Return of the Muse - Cairo, Egypt

your spirit left me long, long years ago
your presence left me longer. I forgot
the forms, the rhythms of your loveliness,
the peace and calm you brought me, the silence
and the loneliness we shared. I lost track,
misplaced the way back, through the years, of all
you taught me about words, and songs, and notes,
and rhymes, and meter, and measure…and love.
Oh daughter, oh sister, oh spirit, deep,
who sent you back to me? What force or power
conjured you up and breathed into you life?
And why? Why here and now? And to what end?
It matters not. I worship at your feet.
I hear and I obey; I write, I write…

Cairo, August 2006


Sonnet #38 - Damascene Sonnet

You lose some things you cherish as you pass
Through life's transitions.  Letters you received
May not survive a flood -- first drafts of poems
You wrote get lost in shipments -- coffee mugs
Disappear, book collections may not stay
Intact when divorce or death parts the waves
Of time.  Friendships and associations
You though would be there in your grayer years
May only survive a season, or not --
And reasons for a friendship come and go
Like tides that flood and ebb and flood again.
The things that last a lifetime, then, are rare
And few, and even random....so enjoy
The fleeting now, breathe deeply, smile freely.

Damascus, July 2009


Sonnet #39 (without punctuation)

We mourn the setting of a brilliant star
Who blazed a path for many, then burned out
At first he sang sweet songs of puppy love
He later sought through song to heal a world
His passions lifted us before his fall
As children we adored his boyish ways
We grew, became adults with his success
As men and women we thought we knew his pain
His stardom overswept us like the dust
That sweet melodic voice became a rasp
On our subconsciousness, his call to heal
Was crowded out by bills and laws and hate
And so we mourn a man who paid the price
And hope that lesser lights will now suffice

Damascus, July 2009


 flashbacks…       

The three of us returned to the barracks
after a late Saturday night dancing to loud reggae
at a smoky club in downtown New London
called Cool Runnings.
The sun was rising - it was almost time for breakfast.
I played Mahjong – to kill some time –
with the Chinese Wave
who spoke with a really deep Bostonian accent -
While her roommate, Annie, from Boligee,
carefully read my palms and
told me my fortune with playing cards -
I recall my fortune and Annie was gentle
and sweet, but I can’t remember
the Chinese Wave's name.


On Attending a Poetry Reading by the Poet Laureate of the United States of America at the Library of Congress.

It was a January day, the heart of winter.
Karren arrived early and saved us a place
up front.  Good seats.  It was an unseasonably
warm January day, and the room filled
quickly, the temperature rising with
everyone's excitement to hear the Poet
recite her work. A silent spirit
entered the room and took a seat in front
of us.  Was it she?  The Poet?  And
so close I could almost reach out and touch her?
"My God," I whispered to Karren.  "She is
a rock star."   The Poet spoke and read her works:
some stirring civil war poems, some Whitman.
Euclid alone has nothing on me now.


Sonnet #41

I tried and tried to make it fit within   
the sonnet's form.  But the words resisted,   
and the thoughts rebelled, and the energy   
contained inside the thoughts, inside the words   
sprung forth and said, "Hell no!"   
So here's the simple truth:  When we're apart  
I cannot sleep.  For days on end I'm just    
a wreck.  Dark rings surround my eyes.  Edgi- 
ness.  A word added to an adjective 
that makes it a noun, a name that describes 
and defines a state of being.  My state  
of being.  A person can die from sleep 
deprivation.  You know that already. 
Don't let me pass another sleepless night.  


Sonnet #42

Words in poetry and notes in music
Are sounds, simple wavelengths colliding off
Our eardrums and the membranes of our souls.
Oft times we transmit sound waves, words or notes,
Through positive values, like happiness
And tenderness, timbres soft and bright.
Sometimes negative: sadness, fear - dull and
Sharp, like aches and pains we frequently endure.
At times, we just receive: parameters
Are the same.  But when we meet, ah, when we
Meet, our words and notes connect!  Our wavelengths
Intersect, and intertwine, and synthesize!
And we make love – sweet love.  External tones
And errant thoughts die softly in the deep.


Sonnet #43

This morning I watched videoed reading The Raven.
Great actors like James Earl Jones read the poem’s
lines to music, almost as if it were a film script
with a musical score. I fear they missed the point,
rushing through the inside words to make them fit
an outside melody and rhythm. With Poe,
the music already lives, inside the words and lines.
Poe’s words are to be read slowly, deliberately,
intentionally. One word should stumble into the another,
like a drunk man walking, like Poe, bobbing and weaving
his way through Baltimore. My father would
read The Raven as it should be read, slowly,
with drunken slurs, and sharps, and flats. “Don’t f-- with Poe!
Forgive me son, I didn’t mean to say that word.
But Poe is not a joke.”  I learned that lesson well.


Sonnet #44

I was a runner in my hapless youth:
two times, four times, eight times around the track;
running to things, running from things, always
in a haste, never taking time to smell
the fragrance of the roses, know the truth.
In time, life slowed me down. I changed my tack.
I learned to walk, to circumspect, unfazed
by every shiny thing my eyes beheld.
But then the boundless sea became my Muse:
Her hidden wonders and her ways seduced
my every thought. Yet she was just a phase,
A short poetic phrase and a malaise.
This sonnet owns no ending, just a star,
To capture our attention from afar.


Sonnet #45 

The poet does not write and read, nonplussed,
For mere applause.  His rhythms and his notes
Might give you pause: for him it’s true relief.
Approval is not the cause, nor the end
Of his efforts.  He writes because he must:
An unformed phrase, a clause not spoken
Is like an Albatross that gives him grief -
Until he edits out its flaws and sends
It to a waiting world of laws - and dust.
He draws the strength from deep within: a lust
That gnaws his soul and never grants respite,
Nor takes flight, nor withdraws to sleep at night. 


Sonnet #46

The wicked witch of the East?
The old, decrepit, ancient East?
She dead. House fell on her ass
during the storm.  Feet all shriveled up.
That witch ain’t going nowhere!
Ain’t gon bother nobody!

But the wicked witch of the West?
The new, modern, amoral West?
She’s alive and kicking.
Causing all kinds of trouble.
Done signed a deal with the Wizard.
The lying Wizard.
Dorothy has her hands full with those two.
And the lion ain’t got no courage.


Sonnet #47

In the hustle and the bustle
as we go our chosen way;
in the winning and the losing
keeping score throughout the day -

in the seeking and the striving
as our plans oft go astray;
in the comings and the goings
and the things we do, and say -

in the kicking and the screaming
of war’s battles, of the fray;
in the plotting and the scheming
of our deep naivete -

Our pure love knows no decay:
In my arms I pray you’ll stay.


Sonnet #48

I am feeling the heat of battle
and tasting its bittersweetness. Still on track,
though other things fall through the cracks of space
and time. Poetry is a jealous mistress,
after all, a possessive lover without gender who
demands every gram of your attention and devotion.
“Forget any other dedication, any outside legal
or moral obligation,” Poetry warns,
“and ignore that silly wench you call your Muse!”
Poetry screams, “Be with me alone!”
And you accommodate, first haltingly,
reluctantly, then eagerly, anxiously,
as you become narcotized by, and soon addicted
to the sweetness of stolen waters.


Sonnet #49

Erato said, “Ray, don’t walk along the river
this morning. Stay in open, well-lit places.
Our poetry is irritating people who have
the power and the inclination to do you harm
on a dark, deserted river path.”
I said, Erato, my dear, isn’t that just a wee bit
extreme?”  She said, “Do I really have to
spell it out?  Stay off the river.  Open
spaces, well-lit at dawn.”  I said, “Do I
need to conjure up my parents and my grandparents,
and have them send help from the Spiritus Mundi?”
“No, no,” said Erato.  “Let them rest in peace.
Filo and I will take care of you.
But you must do as I say!  I am your Muse!”


Sonnet #50

the second infusion
is always smoother --

can't do that with coffee,
a one-trick pony

that gallops quickly
to your main vein.

I was once in love
with a poetry lady

but her best poems
got lost in a flood

and I regret being
so self-obsessed

all those years --
all those trying years.


Sonnet #51

I watched a squirrel and a sparrow
play a little game of tag last Thursday
in Washington Circle.  The squirrel ran
a zig-zag pattern across the green,
trying to evade the sparrow –
but the sparrow compensated for the zig-zag
by flying up on the zig and back down on the zag,
lightly pecking the squirrel on each descent --
I looked at the lady next to me,
waiting for the green light to cross.
“Did you see that?" I asked. She smiled. She laughed.
“Yes!  I saw it! They were having some fun.”
We crossed on green and our paths diverged.
She zigged.  I zagged.


Sonnet #52

Filomena is on the phone
with her sister in Lisbon

I always know because they
speak a Portuguese I can’t follow

um crioulo duplo
uma lingua de cozinha

it’s tudo bem for me,
‘cause the revolution
will not be circumcised

so they can have their
kitchen secrets, just as long
as they remember to call me --
‘cause I want to be around
for dinner and for the revolution…


Sonnet #53

High culture and low
polished and profaned
sanctified and ghettoized -
all the decisions we make
stem from false dichotomies
presented to us – opposing options
in a narrative, neither of which
makes us better or worse for the wear --
just older and grayer –
more wrinkled and cataract’d
until our vision is blocked,
and our tastebuds deadened
by the novocaine they give us -
for good behavior.


Sonnet #54

I wake up with the hiccups,
my coffee jones is down on me -

I stumble to the kitchen,
still some powder left in the grinder

from yesterday’s yesterdays –
I fire up the kettle – twice-boiled

water will do just fine, thank you.
My hiccups are getting worse…

The french press is full of sludge.
I pour the sludge out - most of it -

what remains will season the new batch,
sort of like making yogurt.  The whistle

is blowing, the water is boiling again.
Won’t be long now.  Won’t be long.


Sonnet #55

another crazy dance with Maria dos Santos Pittsylvania:
she loves the Tango, Lambada, Kizomba -

always well-dressed, her steps are technically
choreographed, mechanically proficient.

The rhythm, the beat of the music determines
each step, each twirl, each bump, each groove:

but the melody stirs the heart, and you want
to peek into her eyes, cast a flirtatious glance, at least -

then the beat shifts, requiring a technical adjustment,
precision; and attention to the glance you seek

gets diverted to the mechanics of the dance, again –
and you know it’s OK, because Maria is an android

in a pretty pink body suit. And you think yourself
a knight in shining armor - this is Second Life, silly.


Sonnet #56

Got my transfer orders the other day,
be heading out to my next post

real soon.  Brushing off the
old dust, washing all those memories

of the process right out of my head.
Delivery was a tortuous path,

and labor was unusually lengthy –
not like the last time when the path

was smooth and we just slid right
out.  Oh no, this time was painful,

and slow and unpredictable - but in
some ways better, thorough, meaningful,

more comprehensive.  Thank God it’s the
last transfer point on the Orange Line.


Sonnet #57

in postcard absence I’m writing about
a concert I attended night before last –

El Gusto, playing Chaabi,
music of the Casbah in Algiers–

music of the streets,
of the village, clubs and bars –

like jazz, and blues, and gospel -
and fado I have known –

they played, they sang,
they stood up and danced –

they made a joyful noise -
old men of the Casbah –

muslim and jewish and other –
getting down together with song.


Sonnet #58

Since I retired my wife insists
on making the bed together every day.
I guess I was at work when all this excitement
happened before. We fluff and straighten
the pillows, aligned but not touching.
Sheets tight and tucked, folded over at the top.
All equally distributed side to side.
(She cannot think until the bed is made!)
Then she calls me an amateur when I
walk away before she has taken the final
measurements.  “This is not boot camp,”
I whisper to myself.  But by then
the kettle is whistling, the freshly
ground coffee requesting submergence. 


Sonnet #59

I miss the rains of Bissau –
the soft pitter-patter at dawn –
the heavy downpour, like clockwork,
in mid-afternoon – as chuvas veem -
the lightning and the thunder
at sunset, raging against the end of days –

I wish we had some postcards
from that magical place –
we have a painting of Joao Landing
before the Chinese built the bridge –
and statuettes from the Bijagos.
Manjaco cloth draps the sofa,
and music CD’s from the Tabanka
are on the shelf – but postcards não ha.


Sonnet #60

I could listen to Lady Day
sing - all night long –
those blue minor chords that
don’t quite seem to fit
except for their perfection;
those flat notes that fall so
softly from her lips, like
manna, to our awaiting souls –
like dew, early, early
before sunrise…
I could listen to those
old songs all night long –
“Bend your branches down –
along the ground – and cover me.”


Sonnet #61

I heard a tale that made me feel so sad
about a friend, abandoned by his art
or it by he, his talent to impart
some sense of beauty vanished like a fad.
But let us tell his story in this verse:
his art brought joy and gladness to his friends,
and satisfied his soul’s deep urge to mend
a broken world.  What happened was perverse,
expression of his talent overcome
by stress of work, career became for him
the higher call.  The artist’s light soon dimmed,
and Tantalus foretold his martyrdom.
This cautionary tale includes one plea:
one truth, one hope for immortality.


Sonnet #62

The teacher couldn’t come to class today.
They say it was because the government
shut down.  Let’s call it by its proper name:
A high-tech coup d’etat is what occurred –
transfer of power from the president
of the republic we had, to the thugs,
the mob.  The ethics of the Fogged Bottom
swamp have made their way to Capitol Hill.
Don’t you speak French?  It was a coup d’etat!
The King is dead, long live the King of State.
Democracy has fallen, patriots!
Like punks we are, we weep and wring our hands:
One day we all will answer for this crime –
and that is why this sonnet cannot rhyme.


Sonnet #63

new books arrived in the laundry room
(I do laundry more often since I retired)
German novels, African American history,
Native American languages, British plays -
I thumb through all the new additions,
while the whites wash and the colors dry.
An eclectic collection, well kept (I can tell) and
carefully read by a conscientious reader,
perhaps a tenant, now departed, her books
abandoned, left behind to testify
on her (or his) behalf.  And launderers
like me now benefit from such largesse.
I thumb through them all,
and wonder will my volumes end up here.


Sonnet #64

It is only a few minutes before midnight,
but it is already way, way past my bedtime.
So, in case I crash before the clock strikes,
and am transferred to the world of dreams,
of voyages and of possibilities,
I want to wish everybody in the known
and the unknown Modern Poetry universe
a happy, safe, and prosperous 2014!
Keep reading poetry, and keep writing it,
fearlessly: the bad stuff and the good,
the bounded and the unbound,
the modern and the post-modern.
Keep the faith, keep the fires burning -
the hereafter far surpasses the present.


Sonnet #65

a few notes from my morning walk - Rock Creek Park
a man playing a harp on one side of Pegasus,
on the other, a man carrying sheathes of wheat
over one shoulder with a scythe in his hand,
a turtle at the harpist’s foot (percussion, maybe,
or just slowly but surely wins the race?)
“Music and Harvest” is says at the base
a man carrying a large book on the outside
of the other Pegasus (it is a gate, after all!)
and an archer with a taunt bow on the other,
the all-knowing serpent at Pegasus’ rear quarter,
“Aspiration and Literature” at the base.
the copper of both is green with tarnished disregard
but truth shouts out despite the dirt and dust.


Sonnet #66

after all the parades and football games
and shopping sprees and pundit prophecies
what does it mean, this changing of the year?
Janus has two faces, east and west, alike,
or north and south – choices and decisions
we must make, obligations, promises
to keep.  And if the film is one we’ve seen
before, we have to change the narrative

or at least switch out the soundtrack
change the rhythm and the beat
throw some popcorn to the ceiling
clap our hands and stomp our feet.
January has two full moons this year
moon rises at sunrise, and sets at set.


Sonnet #67

no need for an apology -
it was I who over-reacted:
obsessed with non-existent privacy –
trained with a double fiction:
never who I am,
never where I am,
always hiding the truth –
even from myself –
and mixing justifications -
until I lose the ability
to distinguish contrived reason
from complex reality -
but that phase of life is over:
and I need to break away.


Sonnet #68

It’s a cold night in the bottom:
a deep fog has crept up on us
from the swamp below –
so thick the street lamps
look like little moons in the distance –

And my legs are tired, man,
my knees are aching so bad:
from walking too long –
too far – too late – too often –
trying to meet too many obligations –

But soon I’ll be home –
hot soup simmering on the stove –
a pair of loving arms awaits me:
to hold me and to listen to my story.


Sonnet #69

The same Spirit that haunts me, guides me –
same dude, although sometimes he shows up
in drag, wearing a wig, and lipstick –
talking ‘bout “Will you light my cigarette?”

This same Spirit appears infrequently,
but just often enough to remind me
that he is both my rudder and my anchor.

He often warns me about the Muse
and her sisters.  “Those women are no good,”
he says, “all that flattery and inspiration.”

The same Spirit used to frighten me when
I was a young pup.  We are old friends now,
able to dismiss one another’s excesses.
It is, how shall we say, a mutual appreciation?


Sonnet #70

smooth white snowflakes coat
the algae build up inside
the glass fishbowl –
the crystal ball:

the head of the Beast is
drunk with malaria
from mechanical mosquitos –

standing water still stinks,
festers, breeds ten plagues –
green and brown scum stains
bleed through winter’s whiteness –

pure as driven snow,
sinking deep, deeper –
rotted to the core.


Sonnet #71

to capture the attention of the market,
we need something dramatic,
something that seizes its imagination:

then enslaves it, then anesthesizes it,
putting it in a deep sleep, the deep sleep
of brain death, the un-dead.  Then they will buy

whatever we sell them. The core product is fear –
the actual product is the security they think
they prefer to protect themselves
from feeling the fear they already bought –

the augmented product is all the images
we show them on the TV to make up
for the freedoms they lost, the birthright
they gave away, the un-born.


Sonnet #72

Van Gogh’s repetitions:
dude must have been stoned –
painting that same postman
over & over & over again –

like Stein, repeating a phrase
repeatedly, each time with teensy
weensy alterations, a word portrait
of a Napoleon or a Picasso –

I have been known to write a poem
twice, three times, each time a little different,
four times if I really meant it –
so I know where Vince is coming from…

but I always get told to tighten
the top of my favorite ink bottle…


Sonnet #73

I found the Dylan Thomas poem you mentioned
in your letter. I read each line aloud,
and when I reached your favorite part,
I wished that you were here.
But it is not to be.  You are, I am,
afar, apart, in ways precise, diverse.
I wrote the poem in long hand, as I said
I would, the words traveling from the page,
through my eyes, down my arms - muscle memories –
to finger that held my favorite pen,
and onto the pages of my notebook –
and though I’ve never seen your face, nor touched
your smile, nor tasted the sound of your approach,
I hear your voice across the seas of time.


Sonnet #74

Daphne is fleeing Apollo
and her face is an open book of terror.
She’d rather be a laurel tree
than live the captive life
of an object of once passionate pursuit.
Apollo’s hand slips around her waist,
her abdomen already transforming to bark,
yet through the wood he feels in her gut
her beating, throbbing heart,
and he, his passion a misdirected vector,
could not care less.  Look at his face.
His focus is the hunt, the game,
her fingers leaves, her arms now laurel branches.
The transformation is itself a meditation.


Sonnet #75

“The legends say something happened in Chaneysville.”
And legends don’t normally lie, though they may embellish,
just a bit.  A big city history professor returns to his rural roots
when he learns a father-like figure is dying.
A transference occurs, a passing of the seat of authority:
now is his turn to sit on the leadership stool.
Truth knocks at the door, the scales of justice
are unbalanced – a historical wrong must be righted.
The old man taught him in his youth how to track game
through the woods.  He used those tools in his new field,
a sleuth tracking information through layers of noise.
But now his sense of direction must be straight and true.
Leave the self-perpetuating baggage in the city:
discovery and redemption require a certain resolution.


Sonnet #76

Measure equal portions each:
ground ginger and cinnamon sticks;
whole peppercorn and clove buds;
cardamom pods; nutmeg; and black cumin seeds.
Mix in a grinder until powdery and fine,
store in an airtight metal tin.
Heat one teaspoon in four cups of water
until it forms a shimmering slime on top.
Add tea and steep for taste,
or brew in coffee, per your choice,
in similar proportion. Or sprinkle
on ice cream or your favorite dessert.
The spice mix will de-stress the mind,
soothe digestion and aid regularity.


Sonnet #77

The universe has no beginning nor end,
expanding and unbounded in undefined space
and time.  Every event is an act on a stage,
a plot that continually evolves.

Our paths cross like two distant stars –
each a separate solar system –
but from afar, from Earth, perhaps,
we appear joined, fused, as one.

And sailors use our apparent light
to steer their ships by through the darkened night,
and stargazers reckon the passage of time
by the single light they think that we emit.

Yet all their precise calculations miss
the mark, based on a truth that is false.


Sonnet #78

In one year, or in a thousand years
our galaxies resume their chosen paths,
and from afar, from Earth perhaps, the truth
will be revealed: we are not one star – but two,

or many, diverse, distinct, passing through
space like ships in the night.  And sailors still
reach their destinations, despite the inexactitude,
still sleep in loving arms’ embrace the long night

through. So what’s the moral of this story,
what’s the sonnet’s point?  We seek defined lives
in indefinite space.  We try to reconcile
our every act, our every word, each thought,

but ere the end all bets are off,
and all is naught but drifting stardust…


Sonnet #79

I wandered through a shopping mall looking
for a telephone, a land phone with two lines:
dying technology, I would soon find out.
The mall, normally full of shoppers, was empty,
quiet, flat. Where were all the shoppers?
A few old men sat at tables in the food court,
rustling through papers with young couples,
and big, tatooed men passed through, I could tell
they were ex-soldiers by their swagger, by the glaze
of combat still in their eyes. Looking for jobs.
No jobs today, everywhere, stores are closing.
In Baghdad, the Marines used to say, “America
is not at war, the Marines are at war.
America is at the Mall.” Not no more.


Sonnet #80

A friend from overseas asked me in a card:
“Ray, what’s it like to live in a country
constantly, always and forever at war?”
I didn’t have an answer so I rolled three dice.
Drama masks; a ladder; catching butterflies.
The masks are for deception when they speak,
all actors on a temporary stage.
The ladder: an escape; a rescue;
a fortuitous disassociation.
Catching butterflies: they will try to lure you
you back.  Stay on your track, ignore their call.
So what’s it like?  Constant bombardment, spin,
propaganda, fake stories, subliminal appeals.
Don’t think about the guy behind the curtain.


Sonnet #81

Everybody’s talking about the one percent:
they have all the money, all the connections,
the networks to get more money, MOAR money.
I say let them have their exclusivity,
build those walls higher & higher, thicker
and thicker to keep out the unalike,
the alien, the dissimilar, the impure.
Let their gene pool weaken from incest
and lack of variation, let their diseases  
replicate and multiply inside those walls,
walls that enclose but also block out
light & love & joy & celebration.
Give me life’s richness any day, and color,
and let them perish in their cherished purity.


Sonnet #82

Today’s project task is the writing of
a compelling introduction for the
project report. It is the final step.
Strange practice, one might think, saving for last
the introduction, like ending a website
construction process with the homepage.
Maybe a better analogy is icing
on a cake, a cherry in the middle.
Dare I deliver them poetry?  A sonnet,
perhaps, or rubaiyat? Some terza rima
or octava?  Of course it will be prose,
of course: conventional, traditional,
paragraphical but purposeful prose,
with maybe an occasional hidden rhyme.


 Sonnet #83

It matters that Frost wrote “Stopping
By the Woods” in rubaiyat form,
a Persian, Farsi quartrain style,
imported to the Christian west.

And it matters that the same
person who invented TED talks
coined the term information
architecture.  An architect.

I roll the dice: a rising star;
an old man’s thoughts, and energy
radiating out from the center –

The message is in the grammar –
the structure that houses the space –
and content – just the vehicle.


Sonnet #84

The first poem I remember studying
in school was The Charge of the Light Brigade.
That was poetry. And Thanatopsis –
that was poetry too. At A&T I met
a girl who could recite them both by heart.
It was true love at first sight. But she said
her mother told her she should never date
a poetry-writing man. I digress.
Good poems have charm and personality,
like trees, that can shelter you in a storm –
and precision, biting multiple times
in the same spot to send its venom true.
The further we venture from the structure,
the less precise our messages become.


Sonnet #85

I stopped watching the TV news last year:
too much propaganda and spin made me
dizzy – newspapers too, mere distractions
diverting our attention from the truth
to empty noise.  Today I only trust
the story cubes, randomly picked and tossed.

Sunrise, a rainy April morning, a new day
dawning – the beginning of the future –
a straight arrow, true to its aim, direct
to its destination, straight to its goal –
and a man climbing a wall, pulling himself
up with his arms –  getting stronger, stronger.

The future is now, obstacles in our path
make us stronger, keep us true to our faith.


Sonnet #86

21 years in a lockup, 4 black passbooks,
cancelled, holes punched in the cover:
I never felt bound by its darkness,
nor constricted by its strait jacket,
but always freed, liberated, emancipated
by the song of curiosity in my soul.
Let us not disdain the leaders
of the instruction manual factory –
Jesus said feed all the sheep –
but don’t forget that among them
are whores who will turn a trick
at the drop of a dime,
and pimps who’ll sell their own
mothers if the price is right.


Sonnet #87

We need time and space to unpack our lives –
condensed, compressed, repressed, concentrated
for far too long on trivialities,
technicalities, false flag theatrics –

Let’s touch the core of what we call our truth:
shall we preserve the status quo, believe
objectively this love will conquer all?

Or should we seek to transcend (abolish?)
the dead-end that’s approaching
for a different, enlightened way?

Or is it only the individual
that matters in the end, the beginning?
Or maybe just break all the rules,
and then, unshackled, unrestrained, renew?


Sonnet #88

I remember the music and the old men:
drinking cheap scotch and soda water,
huddled around the record player,
heads bobbing softly to the rhythms –
second-hand smoke filled the living room,
smoke layers lined up with the sound waves,
burned my own anxious lungs.
I remember first meditations, and
giant steps, and blue train, and love supreme.
Sometimes the old men would argue
about what the sounds, the music really meant,
about where it all came from, deep inside.
I never fully understood their talk –
but the music, the music I remember.


Sonnet #89

early spring is as colorful as late autumn:
the highway flora is putting on new clothes
winter’s browns and greys displaced by greens
and oranges and reds and purples –

further west, the road gets curvier and trees,
more hardwood that evergreen, more long-legged,
evergreens shorter, bushier –

the baby mountains start to appear,
along with their mothers and fathers –
majestic, protective, persevering –

I can feel my brain starting to bend
to the mountain curves. I switch the station
from talk radio to jazz. A Love Supreme
takes me all the way to my mountain home.


Sonnet #90

I arise early from a restless night –
dawn is not yet breaking – all is silent
save the occasional mournful tweet
of a single bird – same note, same tune
and no response – he doesn’t have a mate.
The mountain air is cool & crisp & still –
the darkest part of night.

I make coffee in the aeropress, sit
on the porch and listen to the sad song
of the solitary bird – and sip my coffee,
slowly, to the end. Soon dawn will break
the silence of the night – the dogwoods
blooming, the chorus streaming –
and the early bird will meet his happy maid.


Sonnet #91

ghost stories can be very sad
when pain and hurt are just beneath
the superficial fright and scare –

we all know it ain’t about the storyline –
the plot is merely, purely incidental –
that the real game being played
is that we all got played

but hey, it’s cool –
as Mahalia would say, “that’s just
the way it is down here.”

you can be a tool
in the great game of 2016 –
but don’t be no fool,
‘cause poetry will find you out.



Sonnet #92

every shade of green, it seems,
displays itself upon the hills
that fill the skies encircling my home –
when I arrived December’s days
were short, its nights were long –
these hills were grey and brown –

and sad, a bit, but I was told
that green, in Spring, would overtake,
outstrip Winter’s darkness, and the hills
would put on green – from the bottom
to the top – in stages and layers –
like stockings, thick socks for a frosty night.

and so, in streaks and patches to the top,
100 shades of green now fill the skies.


Sonnet #93

all my verse is about gardening
these days, the rains that feed,
the weeds that choke (which is
their right to do), the late frost
that kills the tender shoots from seeds
I planted too early.

my sunflowers are quite the ladies,
bashful, tender, as they approach
their flowering stage, the carrots
need more thinning, their tops
the brightest green, and the turnip
leaves too tough to eat.

but one of the weeds has edible
leaves – I’ll think I’ll let it grow.


Sonnet #94

Fleeting, passing things that invade our quiet
space require poetry – if only
a word - a note, a line, a formless
shapeless tune still finite - words are needed
to mark the memory, fix the experience

in time. The infinite – is poetry
itself – cycles that appear & recede
like waves that kiss the shores of our dreams
from opposing sides, across unending
expanses of timeless thought and boundless

space. Forms that shape of our finite lives are
also poetry – a poetry that
endures, that expands beyond enclosing
borders, walls – the horizons that beckon us.


Sonnet #95

Tuck’s Tap and Grill was playing
Norah Jones back to back –

don’t know why I didn’t come.
I was drinking my favorite –

iced tea, half sweetened,
half not, with lemon –

had a Santa Fe burger, medium,
with sweet potato fries.

The waitress was very kind
and understood my need

for half and half –
just finished her associate degree

at Southwestern Community College –
be at Western in the fall.


Sonnet #96

I love your poems’ cuss words:
sparse, efficient, precise –
though I know Mrs. Coley
would never include your work
in her black lit anthologies –

English teachers of our youth
detested cuss words about as much
as today’s teachers hate wikipedia,
as much as librarians despise google –

but i encourage students to use
whatever works for them, expresses
their needs, their dreams, their realities –

I want to read Dark Symphony tonight,
and laugh and hide inside the lines.


Sonnet #97

thickened ventricle walls
push the pressure higher
creating the condition
for extra beats per measure

sometimes that extra beat
silences the main bass line
stopping the flow of sound juice
to the thinking center

loss of thought leads to
unconsciousness – out of body
experience – collapse – collision
with Earth – bones breaking

thin the blood flow – cancel
the signal of the errant beat.
Sonnet #98

I watched that star on the super bowl show,
twisting & twirling & stomping her feet,
talking about her DNA like she
designed it herself. I’m glad there’s hot sauce
in her bag, thrilled she’s calling her ladies
to get information. Sad she calls them
tricks, hate she drowns on top that police car
at the end. Red lobster’s not so special,
no cornbread, no collard greens, just coleslaw
and cheese biscuits. But that box is chocked full
of teeny beeny bean pies – more than just
a dreamer – best revenge IS your paper –
never cared much for helicopter rides,
conspiracy theories, Givenchy dresses.


Sonnet #99

deep in the belly of the whale
a new machinery of governance,
an infrastructure is coalescing –
out of sight and out of mind –

the promised one might just be
in for a surprise by southerners
feeling the bern, sly as a fox,
ready to go the distance

of the bruising battles to come –
grey never fades – the same while
the machinery measures its new

strength, deciding once and for all
if it wants to be network anesthesia
or the herald of a brave new world.

April 3, 2016

Sonnet #100

it may all be lost in a masquerade -
that's what Benson used to say
in the song that criss-crossed
between jazz and rhythm & blues -

maybe the universe is a giant hologram -
two dimensions projected over a 3d space,
and we all live in a simulated lab
of our own making - or our enemy's -

which would explain the gaps
and limitations that often present themselves
in our silent hopes and daydreams -

and all the chit-chat we engage in
about race and sex and intersectionality.
Stop, the love you save may be your own.


Sonnet #101

I am black and semi-retired. Though a country boy,
I live in a city that is not my home or hometown.
I hate its noises and the smell of machinery
on subway platforms that live deep in the bowels
of the underground. So I ride the bus. Because I found
my voice years ago I am not invisible, notwithstanding
my own delusions of invisibility. In a divisive political year
I vote both ways (maybe three ways, maybe four)
and dare anybody to tell me I am wrong. I took a long
walk today, south to Georgetown and west to Dupont
Circle and there is plenty of ink left in my fountain pen.
This might be stream of consciousness, and if I don't
run out of gas, it might make it to a 14-line poem,
or it might shape shift itself into a short story.

April 5, 2016


Sonnet #102 - Let the good times roll

a soft breeze floats in tune with the music
of the viola and flute. The dancers,
the couples are so happy and carefree –
there is food and drink enough to sustain
them all. But how long will the music last?
Caged birds look sadder than the musicians
who continue to sing. The music plays on,
but the bubbles being blown may soon burst.
When the minstrels stop & the food runs out
and the candles burn down to a flicker,
will the music die softly in the breeze?
Pay the musicians! All drinks on the house!
Will the barrels stay empty or be still?


Sonnet #103 - Unfinished

“We must be ‘in love’ before we can understand the mysteries of vision.” -HD

Words are not many, not enough to say,
to write, to speak, to paint on cloth
the thoughts, intense and magnified, of loss.
Sudden, irreparable. Loss. The pain,
our newest journey, is our present need.
Reconciliation with the absence,
now acute, now chronic, is a far road,
a distant path unmarked, perhaps un-walked
before. But we begin. Baby steps. One
by one. Our choices constricted, our motion
chained, the path is poorly illuminated.
Show us a sign! Lead us to the new light!
Let’s hold each other, gently, through the storm.

April 9, 2016



Sonnet #104 - Reminiscences on my parents’ 61st anniversary

We eat Chinese food on Fridays, mostly,
fish makes it sort of Catholic, partly,
and having it on Fridays is Islamic
and Jewish, maybe. Truth is we are not
religious at all. We have made peace
with our choices and our burial preferences
are listed in our wills. I do regret
my youthful indiscretions, the time I snuck
off my boat on a duty day, the night
I spent with a girl who turned out to be
a drug dealer could have been my last,
not for drugs, mind you, let’s be clear.
A cute, sweet girl, a Georgia peach,
a country girl my mother would have loved.

April 10, 2016


Sonnet #105 - Still life

my ideal still life painting would contain
a non-microwave safe cup and saucer,
a piece of ripened fruit, a wind up watch
with a leather band, and a book, hardbound,
with several bookmarks and tabs. On a desk.
And maybe reading glasses, depending
on the reader's (and the painter's) needs.
I'd stare at that canvas, and wonder
if he (or she) drank tea or coffee, hot
or lukewarm like I like it. I'd wonder
does the book have poetry inside it,
the bookmarks and tabs for his (her) favorite
passages. I'd hang it beside my wife's
painting of the river ferry crossing.

April 11, 2016


Sonnet #106 - April 12, 2016 - The Judgment Day (1/8)

It’s more than just a painting or a poem –
or even a sonnet for a painting
(we’d be so vain to suggest!).  The story
is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The judgment day is what we seek, and fear.
In no hurry to pay for our misdeeds,
give us reparations now for insults,
moral crimes against us, past and present.

There is a discrimination – between
the sinners and the saved, darkness dwellers,
those who see the light. Salvation’s shining
ray uplifts the soul; lightning bolts reveal
the lumps of lead the wicked thought were pots
of earthly gold. And time shall be no more.



#107 - April 13, 2016 - Let My People Go

Of earthly gold. And time shall be no more.
I ride the steeds of war, my spear sharpened
to kill my brother at Pharaoh's command.
But there's a light that pierces all the waves,
the rage of hate, and separates our thoughts
from the darkened state of eternal war.

Go up, Moses, tell old Pharaoh to go.
We no longer need his tricks and trinkets,
his crutches enabled our servitude.
Tell Pharaoh he needs us - we don't need him.
Without us, he, his army cease to be.
Give old Pharaoh the 4-1-1. We're done.
No more blues, no more weeping over me.
The groans of my people have filled my ears.




#108 - April 14, 2016 - The Crucifixion

The groans of my people have filled my ears.
A line of folks awaits the lynching tree
behind our dear, sweet Jesus. Simon bears
the cross for him, climbs up the rugged road.
Sweet Jesus. Nails go through his hands, his feet –
the soldier’s spear pierces him. Mary weeps,
we weep when we think about how he died.

I tremble. My turn’s next. The rope is loose
around my neck. The crowd screams, “Crucify!”
We bear the cross. We die on Calvary.
The soldiers stare, do nothing. The thorny crown,
the purple robe mock. Sweet Jesus. Betrayed.
The traitor’s bitter kiss, its passion lost –
the sweat like drops of blood upon his brow.


#109 - April 15, 2016 - Noah Built the Ark

The sweat like drops of blood upon his brow.
"He is working so hard to build that boat,
He's gonna give himself a heart attack!"
His wife would say. Year after passing year
he worked on the Ark, rain or shine, hot, cold,
through periods of ridicule, self doubt -
building, preaching.
            Legend says he gathered
two of every living creature before
he sealed the hatch. Then the raining began.
Forty days. The rising waters lifted
the Ark off its blocks - sent it underway.
For one year they sailed. Sea without a shore.
Then God gave Noah a sign - a Rainbow -
it won't be water, but fire - next time.


#110 - April 16, 2016 - Go Down Death – A Funeral Sermon

It won’t be water, but fire – next time.
The universe was expanding faster
than we thought, the distance the death angel
had to travel, longer, his flight angle
trajectory, steeper, than allowed for
in previous calculations. A bright
star steered him to the house of Caroline,
our sister, to commence her journey home.

Death didn’t say a word. She saw Death come
like a falling star, our Caroline. No fear
was in her heart. Death took her in his arms
like a baby, comforted her, placed her
on his horse securely for the ride.
 And she whispered to us: I’m going home.



#111 - April 17, 2016 - The Prodigal Son

And she whispered to us: I’m going home.
The young man traveled down the easy road
to Babylon. New clothes, new dancing friends,
new drinking dens and gambling games to play,
and women – flowery scents intoxicate
the mind. Oh the women of Babylon!

But his luck ran out – good times disappeared
and he found himself stripped of everything
good fortune gave him. Soon he cast his lot
among the beasts, the scavengers, the swine
who thrived on leftovers, things tossed aside –
with beggars in the mire of Babylon.
Then, in disgust, he made the journey home.
Young man — your arms too short to box with God.


#112 - April 18, 2016 - The Creation

Young man - your arms too short to box with God.
Invisible hand traversed time's flow
and made a world to cure his loneliness.
A thousand worlds. But that was not enough.
There was a need to correspond, to speak,
to apprehend what thoughts the space contained
his hands had wrought. So God created man.

From dust and clay he shaped the human form,
then breathed into his mouth the breath of life.
And man became what God intended him
to be, a maker of his own image.
Then plants grew near him, symbiotically,
providing food and warmth - to each - in turn.
And man became a living soul. Amen.





#113 - April 19, 2016 - Listen Lord - A Prayer

And man became a living soul. Amen.
We lift our prayers, our noble thoughts to Thee,
our source of strength and creativity.
These words, these phrases - our meditation,
we presently petition at your throne.
But listen, Lord, just between you and me,
things ain't so right down here. The folks you left
in charge have gone astray - the golden calf
is all they seek, an idol that they made
with their own hands. Keep us in your light, Lord,
on the righteous path. Forgive the sinners,
languishing in Babylon. Take pity
on the poets and artists who fall short.
It's more than just a painting or a poem.



#114 - April 23, 2016

When I heard the learn’d oceanographer
(it was Earth Day, and our shining Prince had fallen),
When the volume, velocity and variability
of data-rich information overwhelmed the deep,
When I examined the core skills of data management
(data is just an artifact, a document, an antelope),
When I listened to it, the oceanographer’s lecture
excited our minds, with much applause from the librarians;
After the talk we walked to Brookland, the full moon
overhead brightly illuminating a city in mourning, darkened
by uncertainty (our Prince had fallen like the rain),
And approaching Foggy Bottom, I caught a faint whiff
of the swamp beneath us, the sound of the river beyond
slowly turning, emptying into the sea.


#115 -

They say Prince enjoyed a good fado and even traveled
to Lisbon to bathe in its mysterious, noble sound:
a music of sailors on long voyages to unknown, distant places
far from their home country - of women selling fish
down the winding streets of Mouraria and Alfama,
singing prayer songs for their lovers' safe returns,
wailing blues songs for a love forever lost.

Fado's essence is its poetry - the music follows,
sets the stage, and Prince was ok with that,
at least he played his guitar like he was.
From the words, the sounds emit, and from the sounds,
the music soon escapes - a fleeting moment, pure, distilled.
And Prince slipped Earth's surly bonds
and just as quickly scaled eternity.



#116 - April 28, 2016

And everybody lived happily ever after
after the plants started sprouting again –
after the birds started singing again –
after all the poisoned debris was cleared
& destroyed buildings were repurposed –
after the hospital overcrowding was relieved
and the population cured of radioactive exposure –
after the clouded skies were cleared of floating ash
& the rivers & streams, of trails of chemical wastes –
after pandemonium & chaos ruled the streets –
after stores & shops were looted for food
& supplies, & drinking water – after the politicians
made the decisions & dropped the atom bombs as they
promised in their campaigns – once upon a time.

May 15, 2016


      
#117 - Thresher

I just learned the minimum time required
for human perception of an event:
fifty milliseconds for retinal
integration; 100 milliseconds
for cognitive integration.  On board,
it all occurred too fast for awareness,
too quickly for human apprehension -
a tragedy befell us - a collapse
of moral order - it hit us so fast
we couldn’t integrate it with our eyes,
with streaming thoughts about our empty thoughts.
A poem, perhaps, condensed, distilled the track
of every hope - and woe - that passed too soon
for our perception - slow-motioned, closely read.



#118 - Weekly Report Sonnet

Something still smells a little bit funky
about how that whole thing went down last week
in Orlando. Seems a lot for one guy
to pull off. Now they want to gay-shame
the “lone” shooter and vilify his wife.

And politics is all gone down the tube.
Election fraud in both the primaries,
media bought for peanuts, computers
and emails hacked at home and overseas.

Some diplomats want strikes against Assad,
because killing Hussein and Qaddafi
worked out so well. And to top it all off,
how the hell did the En Bee Aye finals
go to 7 games? Must be rigged. Must be.


#119 - June 20, 2016

A migration, a journey by moonlight,
from one holy state to a different one –
move fast though, ‘cause the night, well-lit, is short,
which means no time for reading signs and prayers
for good fortune on the road. The shortest
distance between two points is a straight line –
or a tesseract for time travelers
among us. Another year won’t kill them,
and the cotton crop demands their presence.
But this particular convergence comes
once a generation, so their next chance
will be less fortuitous – as will ours.
A long day, a bright moon, and a lost year.
And a journey to bridge a gap in space.



#120 - Who am I this month?

Same as last month, I suppose. My day


starts with a glass of lemon juice I squeeze,

and water, with a bit of bitter zest

thrown in for good measure. I turn on the radio

and the internet router to catch up

on the morning news – the good, the bad.

We make the bed together – the master

and her disciple. I have oatmeal with raisins

and cinnamon. On Sundays & Tuesdays

I go to the community garden – okra, collards

and peppers are waiting to be watered

and weeded. On Wednesdays & Saturdays

I work at the library. And in between, I tweet

more than I Facebook status update, I suppose.


#121 - Bus stop

I neither wanted nor needed freedom
in my youth. My brain, on fire, needed
a container with lots of oxygen​
to cool and feed its insatiable thirst
for truth. Older now with vision clouded
by smoke & smog, I seek that same freedom
I once disdained, forsook, refused, denied.
Older now with knees that ache at the thought
of bridging the divides that hide inside
my conversations - wait! My bus arrives
at its destination at last! One more
shuttle to catch, one more chapter to read,
one more sonnet of love or fate to extract.
And one more thirst, across the years, to quench.


#122 - Laundry day poem

I renewed my subscription to Poetry
because it was half price,
But I still haven't read the volumes
from two years ago.

Some issues are still in their wrappers -
it's hard to write poetry and read it
at the same time. Think my next project
will be a novel. Of course, nothing

is more fun to write than poetry in twitter.
Well, maybe Periscope might be interesting -
real time, live, in color, and direct

to the reader. Can you feel my pulse
between the lines? Does the flow
of words make any sense at all?



 

#123


#124 - for my classmate, Christina - 12/15/2016

When I’m surrounded by obligations,
by debts calling my name and haunting me,
I pull away and read good poetry.
This week I’m reading Bernadette Mayer’s

Midwinter Day -  the solstice is upon
us, the year’s shortest day, its longest night,
& I need protection from the evil
that lurks between, within those lines, those notes,

those moments of waking, paralyzing
thoughts. There is always something overdue,
some rhyme that’s needed near the end of it
all. It’s freezing cold outside – my eyes weep

tears that lubricate their pain, overflow
the walls, fall like icicles to the ground.



#125 - On Jean Toomer's Birthday

My copy of Cane is yellowed, edges
brittle from age and wear. Words used to stream
through like molten lava, now they percolate
slowly like coffee in Mama's kitchen.
"Delete all spam messages now." Don't think
twice about it - don't look back to see if
anything is worth saving - it's all spam -
click bait to trick you into opening
your inbox to viruses you don't need.
Words used to spill from his lips like diamonds
and fully formed pearls - now they remain
in his head and heart awaiting new birth
and inspiration. Cane is yellow-edged
and brittle. Oracular. Deep-rooted.

12/26/2016


#126 - Year end thoughts - 2016

Granddaddy raised tobacco in red clay
his whole life long – row by row –
until he got too old to continue –
life must have been tough –
year end, year out, hoping
for good weather and fair prices.

Grandma cleaned the white folks house,
did their laundry, raised their children.
That couldn’t have been much fun –
she had her own children at home
to care for. Pop had long red hair
as a child, he told me, and thought
it was a celebration when the house
burned down one cold winter morning.



12/31/2016 #127 - For Maria M.


Your eyes – so steely dark and determined –


a bit too young for the roads you’ve travelled.

You asked me about your lips, about my notice

of their curvature – and those curly locks

that frame, adorn such perfect symmetry.
Our conversation could last forever,


or at least three more years inside a chat box –

and yes, I could write you a poem – a couple

of Rondeaux or a sonnet on my own terms?
Yet all my bad poetry – encouraged


and inspired by exclamations of puppy love,

your puppy love and mine – spilling off the stage

of our distant lives like waves of lava

from volcanic eruptions – fails to satisfy.

01/02/2017


#128 - Conclusions are my weakness

Thumbing slowly through the pages and pages


 of my various attempts at poetic expression,

it’s patently clear why you might question

if I am on and off my modern medications.

But the vitamins and various supplements

I take don’t really count as medicine.

So my highs & lows and euphoric states

must require a different explanation.

Conclusions, you see, are my weakness (superpower) –


I’ll come right out and own it and admit it –

and this poem’s end will demonstrate it.

Let me just drop you off at the corner –

I’ll watch you to your door from afar, shielding me

from the consequences of your goodnight kiss.

01/08/2017